By Andrew Johnson
Grocery shopping is a good place to start when trying to keep monthly expenses under control. Here are a few good habits that you can start to implement right away.
Deciding Where to Shop
Grocery shopping has changed over the years. In addition to traditional grocery stores, giant superstores now carry a wide variety of items including food. These stores advertise low price and convenience.
Dollar store - Dollar stores are great places to pick up household items, paper products and cleaning items that you may usually buy at a grocery store. Not all dollar stores are the same, however. Some carry products that cost more than a dollar, and others have prices that are a dollar or less on everything.
Supermarket or grocery store - A supermarket's main selling point is convenience and customer service. Generally, supermarkets are best for everyday food items because they offer brand names and store brands for “on the spot” comparison shopping. Additionally, since they carry large quantities of foods, there are often sales and discounts. National chain stores like Target and Wal-Mart sell food, and they advertise that they are willing to price match a competitor’s price. They also offer full service pharmacies with affordable generic prescriptions.
Bulk shopping - Many Americans like shopping at bulk stores like Sam's Club and Costco. Bulk retailers offer big savings because producers can use less packaging and save money on transportation/distribution costs. But be careful not to buy more than you really need. This brings up another downside to bulk stores --- the items take up a lot of space. So you will need to have sufficient storage space to keep products in pantries or freezers. Portion out items in smaller reusable containers for easier keeping and rationing. Calculate the unit cost of the item (cost per pound, ounce, gram, etc.) to see how much money you are really saving.
One of the most important parts of grocery shopping is pre-shopping planning. Before you even go to the store, it’s a good idea to take inventory of what items you already have and what you need. If possible, plan out the meals you will prepare and make sure you have all the necessary ingredients. Also make sure to identify any household items or personal toiletries you need to buy.
After you compile a list of items you need, identify what stores will meet your shopping needs. Check online, in the mail, and in the newspaper for coupons, sales and specials. Check out www.couponmom.com for starters. It’s important to make sure that you, and any children you bring along, are not hungry. So plan to go to the store right after a meal. If you shop when you are not hungry, you will be less tempted to buy items that are not on your list.
Also, take along a calculator in case you need to calculate the unit price of an item.
If you need to shop with your children, bring snacks and toys to help keep them happy and entertained. You can always take a moment to check store ads to identify sales and specials. Stick to your list. Compare brands, sizes and labels to make sure you are getting the most for your money.
Always try to calculate the unit price of a product. This is the cost per pound, ounce, gram, etc. Then you can compare two products of different sizes and prices to see which one is really the least expensive. Some grocery stores display the unit price, while others do not. You can calculate it this way: cost / quantity = unit price. For example, if 18 ounces of peanut butter costs $2.79, you would take $2.79 divided by 18 = unit price of $0.16 per ounce.
Try to think of shopping in terms of meals and snacks that will last until you plan to shop again. Focus on buying items that can be used to make a variety of dishes --- such as rice, vegetables, pasta and canned foods. Making larger portions will allow for leftovers. Pre-packaged items may be convenient, but they usually cost more. Using washable storage containers to portion out food will help the environment and also save you money. Pay attention at the register to ensure that you are paying the correct price. Finally, set a dollar limit for the trip and keep a rough running total in your mind (or using your calculator) to make sure you are sticking to your budget limits.
Here are a few additional grocery shopping tips:
- Shop the sales. And look for unadvertised specials.
- If your grocery store offers a discount card, sign up to take advantage of lower prices and additional coupons.
- Stockpile products that you use regularly if you can find them on sale. Buy as much as you can afford and store to last you until the next sale. This could be a big money saver.
- If possible, wait to buy an item until it is on sale. If you know your products and stores, you'll probably have enough to last until the item is discounted again.
- Just because an item has the word "SALE" on it, doesn't mean you are getting it for a lower than normal price. Know your prices.
- Don't be afraid to try generic or store brands. Most stores will refund your money if you are not satisfied.
When you get home from grocery shopping, get organized to make sure the food is used properly without going to waste. Analyze your receipt to make sure you were charged accurately and identify any areas for improvement. Track your grocery expense every time to make sure you are sticking to your budget. Watch for trends and try to plan ahead for you and your family’s grocery needs as they fluctuate throughout the month.